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Berg’s Wozzeck Returns to Philadelphia

Perelman Theatre of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
03/13/2009 -  and 15, 18 March 2009
Alban Berg: Wozzeck
Shuler Hensley (Wozzeck), Jason Collins (Drum Major), Jason Coffey (Andres), Joshua Stewart (Captain), Evan Boyer (Doctor), Joseph Barron (Apprentice 1), Adrian Kramer (Apprentice 2), Diego Silva (the Fool), Karen Jesse (Marie), Tammy Coil (Margret) and Peter Momjian (Marie’s son)
The Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
Emma Griffin (stage director), David Zinn (scenic design), Jessica Trejos (costume design), Mark Barton (lighting design), Jon Carter (hair and makeup design)

E. Boyer (Doctor), S. Hensley (Wozzeck), A. Kramer (Apprentice 2) (© L. C. Kelley)

The Philadelphia Grand Opera Company introduced Wozzeck to the United States in 1931. The premiere – led by Leopold Stokowski – was such a success, the company revived the production 8 months later and took it to New York. Although Wozzeck has been performed from San Francisco to New York since then, Philadelphia audiences had to wait almost eight decades to see Berg’s opera again. The Curtis Opera Theatre is bravely taking up this daunting assignment with some help from two graduates: Shuler Hensley (Wozzeck) and Jason Collins (Drum Major). Young artists in Curtis’ opera department fill out the rest of the cast in a production led by Corrado Rovaris, the music director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and staged by Emma Griffin.

The talented singers deserve stronger support than either conductor or the stage director offers. Friday evening, Rovaris drew some handsome playing from the Curtis Symphony but he failed to provide the musical precision and focus Berg’s tautly structured score demands. Too often, he covered over the voices and, at times, failed to hold the music together. Coordination between the stage band and pit orchestra fell apart in the beer-garden scene. Griffin’s staging was even more muddled. Wozzeck unfolds succinctly in a series of concentrated scenes. Griffin breaks the dramatic tension by cluttering up the stage with mute groups of adults and children which draw attention away from the haunted characters and their conflicts. The silent figures undercut the gripping murder scene and the final pathetic moment when Marie’s son plays innocently after his mother’s death. David Zinn’s colorless sets and Mark Barton’s bare lighting add little to the spare production.

Hensley and Collins leave bold imprints on the performance. Hensley catches the disintegration of Wozzeck’s character and sings powerfully, especially when his baritone voice is not tested by the extremes of range. Collins struts across the stage and fills out the Drum Major’s vocal lines with a ringing tenor. Karen Jesse brings a fresh, ample soprano to Marie’s music. She sings well although she fails to suggest the tragic dimensions of her role. Joshua Stewart’s sweet tenor and benign demeanor hardly capture the Captain’s sinister character. More convincing is Evan Boyer’s meticulously compulsive Doctor. Joseph Barron and Adrian Kramer supply vividly sung portrayals of the two apprentices. Rounding out the cast are Tammy Coil (Margret), Jason Coffey (Andres) and Diego Silva (the Fool).

Robert Baxter



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